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What good is a mostly snow-free sidewalk if a barrier of icy snow blocks it at the street crossing?
That’s long been a persistent irritant and hazard of life in Evanston (and much of the blizzard belt).
I just learned that the city last year finally took a big step toward reducing the problem. Now, City Hall needs to educate the public, repeatedly, about the revised rule: Clear the sidewalk all the way to a street crossing.
This letter began after the city’s email newsletter included a list of things to know about removing snow, but nothing about the new rule regarding crossings.
On a Friday afternoon, yet, 311 agent Denise Doggett and Angelique Schnur, manager of the property standards division, responded promptly to my query.
Part of City Code Section 7-2-9-3(B) quoted by Ms. Schnur (emphasis added):
“(B) Snow and Ice. Every owner, lessee, tenant, occupant or other person in charge of any building or lot of ground in the city abutting upon any public way or public place shall be responsible …
“If such path connects to a sidewalk that leads to a crosswalk or other defined area to cross a street at an intersection, demonstrated best efforts (included but not limited to removal of snow, use of sand, salt or similar deicing material) to remove the snow or ice from this area must also be made so as to maintain the pedestrian path from the sidewalk to the street. The path shall be created and cleared within twenty-four (24) hours of the cessation of any snowfall, ice formation event, or winter weather event resulting in an accumulation and the path shall be maintained and clear of snow and ice. If the snow and ice is hardened and congealed such that removal is unduly burdensome or may damage the sidewalk, the sidewalk shall have sand, salt or similar deicing material spread upon its surface. The path shall be cleared and created to give access to abutting property and public ways.The requirements herein do not pertain to curb walks and they are not required to be kept clear of snow and/or ice. …”
Some people with corner lots seem to think their responsibility ends at the presumed property line, and they leave the snow on the sidewalk ramp into the street. That was legal before the city revised the ordinance. But it was, perhaps unknowingly or perhaps arrogantly, rude and dangerous. The city now invites reports of violations at specific addresses.
Leaving the sidewalk ramp to the street snowy creates a barrier for persons of limited mobility and puts us all at risk of a fall.
Worse yet, the piles left by plows make riskier and potentially impassable barriers. Preventing these piles is impractical. Left to partly melt and refreeze, they can be beastly hard to clear, and yet that is sometimes needed repeatedly.
Sometimes my former Brummel Street neighbors joined in to clear sidewalk ramps on both sides of the street. By machine or by hand shovel, it was less difficult if attacked promptly.
When we asked the Streets Department about avoiding the plow-pile blockages, they explained the physical and operational limits on what the trucks could do safely or economically. One plow driver did give an extra swipe at a couple of crosswalks on a busy school route. For a while.
As former owner of a corner lot (in Chicago) and shoveler of a neighbor’s sidewalk ramp in Evanston, I recognize the burden. But I assert that it is small compared to the benefits.
So my suggestions to City Hall include:
1. Encourage people to clear, and as necessary re-clear, all the way to the plowed part of the street. It’s being a good neighbor, a good citizen, even if not required by law. Now, local law requires it.
2. Reopen the previous discussion of using city assets to relieve property owners of this duty – and presumably to assure that it gets done thoroughly. Yes, this has sticky implications but is worth a look.
3. Educate, repeatedly, about the value and necessity of making the sidewalks usable.